Lake Baikal – paradise in blue

After such a long journey by train from London and the stress of being harassed by a bunch of ignorant Russian women at the tail end of my Trans-Siberian Rail journey from Moscow to Irkutsk, I arrived on Olkhon Island to a paradise. Lake Baikal’s peace and tranquility was just the remedy I needed.

A touch of the Arabian Nights at Nikita Bencharov Homestead

Arabian Nights

After the bumpy ride, Nikita Bencharov Homestead looms ahead like a structure from the Arabian Nights

I stayed at Nikita Bencharov Homestead, the only decent place to stay on the island. Otherwise there are homestays available but you wouldn’t have the luxury of an indoor toilet. Nikita’s is very comfortable; the only accommodation with tap water, piped in from Lake Baikal.

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Trans-Siberian Railway Adventure

This is what you’ve been waiting for! The icing on my odyssey cake, for which adventure traveller/backpacker hasn’t dreamt of taking this iconic train? The Trans-Siberian line from Moscow to Vladivostok, completed in 1916, is the longest railway in the world, covering 9,289 km. My journey to Irkutsk, 5185 km, away took four days.
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2. The writer with Svetlana, the friendly Trans-Siberian provodnitsa

The writer with Svetlana, the friendly Trans-Siberian provodnitsa


Despite the scare-mongering by the hostel receptionist in Warsaw, I still chose to travel in the plaskartny (3rd class) carriage because this is the essence of Trans-Siberian rail travel. You have to bite the bullet and take whatever comes your way, sharing space with 53 other passengers instead of taking the easy way out and travelling in the four-beded 2nd class compartment.
The crowded Plascartny (3rd class) open carriage
I made several friends onboard, including three Russian women, Marina the accountant who loves to Tango, Svetlana the doll-maker and Lyuba, the retired paediatrician who now travels the world, sharing her skills in the art of quilting. I also met a Parisian, Stephanie who was travelling for three weeks.
4. Alexander, the inebriated oil pipeline worker is a gentle giant
I came in fear, thanks for the visions of drunken Russians forcing vodka down my throat but the only drinker in our midst was the gentle giant, Alexander who works for an oil company. He drank himself to a blissful sleep, taking to his bunk like a contented baby until his stop in the middle of the night. Thankfully, Svetlana and Oleg, the provodniks (conductors) were vigilant, waking up passengers before their stop.
5. Post-doctoral researcher, Svetlana Kholodar helping me put up my curtain

Post-doctoral researcher, Svetlana Kholodar helping me put up my curtain

13. Quilt art by retired paediatrician, Lyuba Lezhanina (photo courtesy of Lyuba Lezanina)

Quilt art by retired paediatrician, Lyuba Lezhanina (photo courtesy of Lyuba Lezanina)


My food ration served me well – Korean ramen (noodles) with a dash of Malaysian prawn sambal. I had tea with some uht pots of milk and also shared my sachets of coffee with some of my new friends.
5. The Korean ramen, my staple food

The Korean ramen, my staple food

Middle-aged Russian women are generally a miserable, racist and ignorant lot. I learned this after my friends had disembarked, leaving me to be bullied. Thankfully a Russian post-doctoral researcher living in the US came on board and rescued me. Of course, as soon as she left the bullying continued. This time, with the women refusing to let me use the sole charging socket in the compartment. Fortunately Svetlana came and took me to her office to use her socket.

Saying goodbye to the last of my Trans-Siberian friends, Svetlana Kholodar

Saying goodbye to the last of my Trans-Siberian friends, Svetlana Kholodar


I was ripped off by the Hotel Irkut who charged me the equivalent of £10.00 for a 10-minute taxi ride. I was a sitting duck, I suppose, desperate to get to my hotel safely as I arrived in Irkutsk at 9.00 p.m. and didn’t dragging 30kgs in the dark to search for my hotel.

I staggered up the stairs and sank into bed. With no noodles left I ate some energy biscuits given by my friend, Prof. Hwang from Korea. The biscuits were part of the ration given to Korean soldiers.

READ more about my Trans-Siberian adventures in my article:

https://www.star2.com/travel/europe/2017/04/09/train-of-thought-the-highs-and-lows-of-a-trans-siberian-train-journey/

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From Russia with Love

How many times have I wanted to be able to start a postcard with that message? At last, I got to do it for real when I arrived in Moscow. It wasn’t all plain sailing. For a while, on arrival at Beloruskiy station. Nobody could speak English. For the first time on my 19,100-km odyssey, I felt lonely.

I met the first English-speakers, Amy Eagleburger and Marina Semenikhina and hugged them.

3. Delight at meeting my first English speakers in Moscow, Marina Semenkhna (left) and Amy Eagleburger

Delight at meeting my first English speakers in Moscow, Marina Semenkhna (left) and Amy Eagleburger

You really need to be able to read Russian cyrillic alphabet to read the Metro directions and road signs.

You need to know the Russian Cyrillic alphabet to get around Moscow

You need to know the Russian Cyrillic alphabet to get around Moscow

I met with two Russian friends, Elena Barinova

With Elena Barinova

With Elena Barinova, a retired chemist who is now a travel agent

and Yulia Gusarova
Coffee at the hostel with Yulia Gusarova

Coffee at the hostel with Yulia Gusarova

The next day I visited the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Russian Harrods: GUM.

The iconic St. Basil's Cathedral

The iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral


The opulent GUM, Russia_s answer to Harrods

The opulent GUM, Russia_s answer to Harrods

I met some lovely people at my poetically-named hostel, Winterfell on Arbat.

With Alexander and other staff at Winterfell on Arbat

With Alexander and other staff at Winterfell on Arbat


Speaking of poetic, I was serenaded with opera arias on the Polonez train from Warsaw to Moscow by the restaurant car assistant, Irina Glazkova.
Irina Glazkova sings an aria for me on the Polonez train to Moscow

Irina Glazkova sings an aria for me on the Polonez train to Moscow

Read more about my adventures from my article in The Star:

The long arm of the law heading to Moscow

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Warsaw is where the heart is

Firstly, I want to apologise for letting my blog go dormant for so long. I was tied up with writing the column articles on the odyssey and my book (to be announced soon).

This is the fifth segment of my Rail Odyssey which took me to Warsaw, published by The Star newspaper in Malaysia. You can see the link at the bottom of this page.

My journey to Warsaw from Berlin is where I started being seriously worried about language problems as I was leaving Central Europe where English is more widely spoken.

17. Saying goodble to my host, Zubaidah at Berlin Central on my way to Warsaw. (Photo by Zubaidah Aziz)

I was so reluctant to leave the warmth and comfort of my newly-found friend, Zubaidah’s home. She has become like a sister to me in the three nights we were together.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I made friends with a budding journalist and travel writer, Michal Szymko who regaled me (and scared me) with his tales of doing the Trans-Siberian rail journey. 7. With receptionist Michal Szymko and Korean guests at the Top Floor Hostel

Read all about it here:

http://www.star2.com/travel/europe/2017/03/12/train-of-thought-warsaw-is-where-the-heart-is/Warsaw is where the heart is

 

 

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Berlin feels like home, with spies in tow

The fourth segment of my Rail Odyssey covers my visit to Berlin:

Berlin feels like home, with spies in tow

 

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Cologne and the mystery of its sent solved

My second stop on my 17,500 km rail journey was Cologne, Germany. Read all about it in this article published in The Star newspaper in Malaysia:

Don’t forget to leave a comment.

http://www.star2.com/travel/transport/2017/02/12/train-of-thought-cologne-and-the-mystery-of-its-scent-solved/

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Train museum and a peeing boy in Brussels

This is my second segment of the Rail Odyssey published in The Star newspaper in Malaysia:

Train museum and a peeing boy in Brussels

 

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